04/03/19 First they came for the…

It’s a seldom pondered fact that around 275 thousand people with a mental illness were slaughtered in Nazi Germany while a further 400 thousand were sterilised, probably as part of the massive eugenics movement that ravaged much of Europe, including the U.K., in the 1930’s.

Horrific, eh?

Recently, the British Medical Journal reported that there have been an extra 120 thousand premature deaths as a result of austerity measures since 2010

People with one or more mental illness are hugely over represented in this group – dying 10-15 years earlier than your average person on the street.

There’s been a lot of noise around social and mainstream media talking about how people on disability benefits – or, more importantly, still waiting for disability benefits, are dying prematurely…

Throw the swingeing cuts in any service you care to mention and we’ve a perfect storm of hopelessness and desperation across an already vulnerable population.

Sarah Newton , the minister responsible for the DWP, has warned us against forming a causal link between the astonishingly punitive benefits system and the suicides of many in that desperate situation. That said, there are no plans to research the matter.

Ok team, stay with me here…

Back in 2007, I was a part of a study into my mental health condition – Borderline Personality Disorder – during which I was plonked in front of a computer screen that presented me with 100 portrait photos of adults from all ages and all walks of life.

The study required me to press one of 2 buttons in response to each picture – ‘Trust’ or ‘Not Trust’.

You’ll be delighted to hear, having just been retired from my life as a happy-clappy social worker, I trusted none of these fuckers….not one!

That said, I did press ‘trust’ for an 80 something woman – I didn’t want to appear like some kind of whackjob (DSM-38- revised)

Around the same time, I heard on the radio that over 90% of folk wouldn’t feel comfortable about inviting someone with a mental health problem into their home.

Bastards! We were officially at war!!!

I took a long breath and decided to challenge all this by starting my walk around the edge of the U.K. to highlight the experience of people with mental health problems, taking no money with me, with a brand new belief that the fabulous people of the U.K. would look after me on my endeavour.

What caused my radical U-turn?

First of all, I think a lot of my (surprising for me) mistrust was part of my history and mental malady…this didn’t invalidate my gut reactions, but it certainly allowed me to challenge them…

Secondly, I read, ‘No Destination’ by Satish Kumar – an Indian Jain monk who went on a peace march in the 1960’s relying solely on the generosity of the people he met to see him on his way…

I felt if he could walk from India into Pakistan, expect and receive great hospitality from the people he met, then I should anticipate nothing less from the lovely people of the U.K.

Needless to say, I found people to be fabulous…read my book , ‘Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon’ they just are!!!

People hadn’t changed.

Much of the prejudicial treatment by the Government and negative reportage by the mainstream media hadn’t changed.

I had begun to change. And because of that, I’d started to think.

I consciously started changing by mindset from mistrust to trust. It wasn’t easy – but after a few hundred miles, and a whole bunch of unbelievably generous people, I began to approach folk with a deepening belief that they were going to be fabulous.

These weren’t one-offs…everyone who stopped for a chat was lovely and keen to support me on my way – whether it be through a few kind words, a peanut butter sandwich or a few nights in their spare room…EVERYONE was fabulous.

If you, I, one starts from that position of respect, and, dare I say it, love, then the whole dynamic changes.

If you don’t trust someone and they say something contentious in your mind, your first response will be something like, ‘Bloody typical! I knew they were going to be a bellend…’ You’ll be looking for any sign of disagreement, prejudice or micro-aggressions.

If, however, you come from that position of love, then you, I, one is far more likely to believe a couple of things,

1) This is just their belief on a specific topic. It doesn’t make them the son of the devil. They can hold a belief that’s different from yours and that’s ok. You separate the person from the action.

2) Instead of thinking, ‘This is fucking typical of bellends like them…I knew I was right…’ there might be space for a more compassionate, empathetic thought that this disagreeable statement/ belief is out of character for them – keeping your ‘Theyre fabulous’ belief still intact.

Chris! What manner of bollocks is this? Have you taken leave of your…

Whoa…easy tiger…let me give you a brief, working example…

If I bump into a person on the coast and they have the audacity to use the ‘wrong’ language….

e.g. ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying, Chris, but you’re CRAZY for doing this…’

If I came from an angle of mistrust, where micro-aggressions lurk around every corner, I would immediately dive headlong into a 10 minute diatribe about prejudice and discrimination against people with mental health problems and, as a result, nobody would have invited me into their homes and Walk a Mile would have bitten the dust…

The thing is…if you jump on every piece of language you deem to be wrong…that might somehow offend you or harm you, or some, often fictional, caricature of a vulnerable person, then the conversation will stop there.

You’ll walk away feeling vaguely pious for righting a wrong and saving the day…

…and the other person will wander off thinking that’s the last time they’ll bother trying to speak to a stranger (or anyone) about (insert your own favourite subject for a punch up here)

Ultimately though, you’ve both lost out here.

The wrong language doesn’t mean a person holds a deep seated prejudice. I know I’m using the hyphenated word a lot, but it isn’t necessarily a micro-aggression

Suggesting that it is, is a really…really inaccurate and lazy way of measuring prejudice and discrimination.

You might feel like some kind of freedom fighter for that mythical, less fortunate than you, character, but the chances are, you’d have made the situation significantly worse.

People won’t change their standpoint if you infer they’re some manner of discriminatory cockwomble. They’ll batten down the hatches with a more entrenched belief of…whatever it was.

And surely that’s the whole point of debate – to discuss – to talk and listen to other people’s perspectives…even when you might disagree with them.

To think otherwise drags you into a world of fear…

Did you know, only 42% of Scots and 36% of folk across the U.K. are comfortable about talking to friends and family about their mental health?

That’s what fear does. It closes down communication.

And without communication, nothing will ever change.

Imagine…just imagine, instead assuming someone means you harm, you pause to ask…

‘Sorry, what do you mean? Because it sounded like you were saying…’ insert whatever you like here

There are more than enough macroaggressions – blatant, structural, prejudices and barriers to the rights of our most vulnerable people – for us to combat without looking for a million bogeymen.

This, for example, is a macroaggression

‘I had to sack my carers’: agonising choice between food and home support’

‘Elderly and disabled left rationing their care as local authorities hike charges’

Yes, I’m being naive – I’d be foolish to think if that was all there was to it…

We’re living in strange times where we’ve allowed prejudice and discrimination to be weaponised – we’re all too ready to dive on any sleight…or, more importantly, perceived sleight, to denigrate people who hold different beliefs from us.

Just as importantly, we’ve allowed ourselves to be weaponised to the point that millions – and I do mean millions – of folk are paralysed, terrified to say anything in case it’s WRONG!!

Brexiteer, Remainer, left or right – your views pale into insignificance when you consider the unheard third of folk who are completely disengaged from the whole system.

I’m talking about the people who don’t vote at all…

For example, in 2015, approximately 24% of those people eligible to vote, chose to vote conservative. At that same election 34% of people didn’t vote.

I’m not blaming our endless, at times petty, squabbling for this – but good God, it comes to something when the ‘Didn’t Vote’ party win elections and referendums time and again.

So, back to Rachel Riley and Owen Jones – both seemingly advocating the assault of people who disagree with them, at the same time fuelling hate by labelling them ‘Nazis’

Their behaviour here, and that of their followers/ antagonists on social media reminds me of an ill thought through game from my (long distant) childhood…

‘Pile On’ did exactly what it says on the tin – one person would jump on another, yelling, you guessed it, ‘Pile on!’ and before we knew it a load of people were lying on the squashed person below, with little consideration to why or to the damage they may be causing.

In my defence, Your Honour, I was 12…

What’s your excuse?

Walk A Mile

Chris

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27/02/19 Well that was rather lovely.

Before I begin to wax eloquent about the beauty of the British countryside, I’ll say this…

Walking to help with a mental malady ONLY helps when it helps. To pretend it is some panacea that helps with all forms of mental ill health is…well…mental.

This evening I went out, on my own, for the second time this year, to enjoy my usual (regular when it’s regular) ramble around Warwickshire’s green and pleasant lands.

I’ve been crazy. Fucking crazy (you can look that up in the DSM-a milliion) and it’s been horrible – because that’s what mental ill health is – it’s shit.

As ever, the lovely Ella has been guiding my ship through these stormy waters – speaking to whoever needs to be spoken to – loving me – not judging me – gently stopping me from yelling, ‘Hey, look everybody, I’m cured!!’ to the world at large when the sun starts to break through the clouds…and when it looks like things have improved, applying gentle hands to stop me from running around like an over enthusiastic puppy, eyes popping out my head and tongue lolling, as I try to catch up with everything I’ve missed straight away.

To dull some of the pain (we’ve learned that during periods of deep dissociation, mindfulness and being in the moment can fuck right off) as well as a dark room and loud cop shows we increased my meds.

However…

Yark! Whether it was the malady or the medication or a mixture of both, I developed a few brand new symptoms.

Anxiety. As a rule my dissociation protects me from anxiety. My over zealous mind usually comes to my rescue from some unseen assailant – so instead of mental pain, I usually feel nothing. Not this time – this time my mind and body were in a state of hyper vigilance apropos nothing…just in case.

I’ve decided I don’t like anxiety.

On top of that, I experienced some memory shenanigans.

Here are some of the highlights…

Word finding difficulties – I completely mislaid a number of words including ‘circumcision’ (yes, I know it’s not a regular in daily conversation) and ‘referendum’ which was obviously my mind’s way of protecting me from…er…it’s on the tip of my tongue…

My PIN number that I’d had for around 12 years (security first!) vanished. I bravely did nothing about that, and whoosh…er…clunk…something or other jolted the old librarian who normally retrieves my memories back into action after about a month – and bingo – the number had returned…

Finally – weird shit – imagine my delight when I found the sugar in the fridge!

I’m back on my usual dose of meds and the world’s a bit more normal again.

Tonight’s walk was lovely though. I decided to start walking at dusk – finally conceding that I needed the torch on my phone for the last 10 minutes…but fuck, the world’s delicious at that time.

As blackbirds and pheasants settled in for the night I got to enjoy the magnificent acrobatics of some local bats as they pursued some unseasonal insects…

I passed a vast rookery – usually relatively quiet during the cold (well, increasingly warm) light of day, where the jackdaws (?) really kicked off at my very existence…

I was confronted by one of my most favourite British mammals – a hare – who raced up to me – screeching to a cartoonesque halt when it realised I was significantly bigger than them…

As a great big frog ambled past, it suddenly dawned on me that, in the darkness, wearing black, my head might make a delicious target for one of our larger predators – the whateveritis owl…as the darkness enveloped me like a big velvet blanket, I taunted myself with the image of the huge silent wings and the big pointy talons as it tore my head off in a Monty Python stylie.

Just to galvanise that bit of fear in my head, I heard the enthusiastic hoots of my potential nemesis…

I can do (to my mind, anyway) a passable impression of an owl hoot – which I stifled should it encourage an aerial bombardment.

All silliness aside, it was beautiful and, for prolonged periods, utterly silent.

Lovely.

So…just to remind you…going for a walk helps your mental health only when it helps your mental health…

Walk a Mile

Chris

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14/01/19 The Grinch who stole Christmas

I’ve been in 2 minds (not meaning to Be psychiatrically hilarious there) as to whether or not I should post this. I’ve had a few attempts at writing it – I found it kind of therapeutic and triggering in equal measures. I started to write this on the 07/01/19 – it’s been a bit of a wrestling match.

Please don’t obliged to read it – it’s got triggery bits throughout.

I’ve hidden myself away in a darkened room for the majority of the festive period, like a ghost, doing all I can to be invisible.

I know this is a difficult time for many – a period where the feeling of difference from others is amplified – wherever we look we see happy, smiling friends and families…the Coca Cola lorry…the long anticipated John Lewis advert…

It was around Christmas 1993 when the Royal Ed – Edinburgh’s bin of loons – opened her doors to me…

Me…a recently qualified social worker with an avalanche of cases – 70 folk and their families demanding my immediate support as they were decanted into the community from a variety of Wards across the Westen General Hospital and me with a social work management structure that wasn’t managing…

Some days I was receiving 13 referrals a day…that’s as many as the ‘busy community care team’ of around 15 folk I middle managed 15 years later dealt with AS A TEAM…

And there was no sign of this abating. Add to this a variety of mental health shockers from my childhood that hadn’t been dealt with…that had been clumsily brushed under the carpet – so much so, to flog the metaphor to death, the undulations in the rug meant we couldn’t see the fucking telly…

Or the wood for the trees…

It was on Ward 6 – where I’d been admitted as ‘voluntary’ patient, unless of course I tried to leave, where I’d then miraculously transform into an involuntary patient…a kind of Schrodinger’s loon where all would become clear should I try to escape the box…or go off my trolley…

Anyway, it was Ward 6 where I met a lovely older guy who told me he was admitted every Christmas – he found the festering period particularly challenging because that’s when his lovely wife died.

Despite his age, he looked like a boxer, with the physical poise and grace that comes with that.

He was quite beautiful to behold, even though, looking back I know the inside of his head was like a bag of jangling spanners.

I don’t know if I still experience the long distance ripples from that time – or if they go even further back than that…

All I know is that I’ve just lost a (nother) month of my life to being fucking crazy.

With my rational, 20:20 hindsight spectacles on, I know that over the course of a year I will lose roughly a third of my life to dissociation – a main part of my own particular brand of madness – and that chance dictates that the odd Christmas will be lost as a casualty to this particular war.

I’m lucky – I get to enjoy more Christmases than I lose.

I also know that my first 11 Christmases – you know, the ones that really matter – were fucking ace. Apoplecticly exciting to the point of mild psychosis where I believed I actually witnessed Santa and his Reindeer racing across the snowy skies as I dealt with the exquiste shower of thoughts…

‘What will he bring me?’

‘Will he eat the mince pies we left out for him?’

‘Did we leave carrots for the reindeer?’

‘I’ve got to go to sleep…mum said he won’t come if…!!!’

‘How does he do it all in one night…?’

And the big one that starts to enter the mind of the youthful mind on the approach to the big day…

‘Have I been good…enough?’

This past month has been fucking Hell. Go and take a look at the wiki page for Borderline Personality Disorder/ Emotionally unstable Personality Disorder in new money, and behold the catalogue of symptoms on offer…

I had them all…often simultaneously…only broken up with drug induced, dream filled (oddly symptom free) sleep – dreams where I’m with my (currently estranged) children – smiling and laughing at our unlikely nocturnal shenanigans – I take my meds in the hope I’ll return to those lovely indulgent episodes.

I’m an old hand at dealing with this imposter…these doppelgängers who look and sound like me…where the symptoms feel so terrible my mind rushes to the old familiar solutions of self harm and suicidal thoughts.

As awful excerpts of my life play, unbidden, each screaming for attention all around me like some bizarre record collection…blasts from the past…I’ve lashed myself to the mast of some ancient ship as she’s battered by the storm…I neither know nor care where I’ll end up…I just wait for it to stop…

Everything is triggering – every thought, every sight, sound takes me to yet another vivid rerun…

Mum dying of cancer at home when I’d just turned 12 – the guilt at the relief I felt as this writhing, moaning creature she’d become stopped moving – her funeral where a seemingly endless procession of faceless adults solemnly whisper, ‘Be strong for your dad…’

Dad’s slow and silent tumble into alcoholism – the image of his frail man sitting in his armchair, head in hands, eyes often tightly closed as if fending off something terrible…

I feel the gut turning guilt of the day when, by absolute chance, I returned from college to find him in a gas filled kitchen trying to strike the match that could have ended it all…

All blending into my own failures and losses – the near unbearable pain at my own children refusing to talk to me because some real and imagined belief that I’ve failed them in a million different ways – the image of them hugging with their backs to me as I left their home for the last time – the horror of sitting in the carpark next to their house, crying uncontrollably in the hope that proximity to them would somehow alleviate the pain – my brother in law coming out to quietly tell me to leave because I was frightening the children…

A million of my own misdemeanours and indiscretions wash through my head – I fucking hate and disgust me.

I was an athlete once – playing all kinds of sports – and now look at me!

The intolerable pain at the hurt I’ve caused others in writing a book about it all – a story that I’d tried so hard to…what…? I don’t know.

Are these relationships destroyed beyond recognition? I don’t even know where to start.

Have I become my dad? Legal prescription drugs replacing his whiskey, as I try to reach a point of happy oblivion as I triple the dose of my antipsychotics…

And still I see things that aren’t there – people – weird black blobs…I know they’re hallucinations – but FUCK! It ain’t normal…

Paranoia! Just because your paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you…

Ella’s too good for me…you’re too good for me…I’ve nothing…NOTHING…to offer anyone. I’m a burden…a fucking emotional leech…

Although I don’t act on them – the images of past self harm and suicidal thoughts and actions are so, so real, so vivid…playing over and over again.

For a month I was stripped of any hope…of any future…I was utterly…utterly worthless and toxic…

Even positive things/ events caused me to feel like I was falling further and further into this black abyss – my only choice was complete disengagement…except…

I felt some respite when Ella held my head (for exactly the right time) or when I sniffed the perfumed nightie she left with me…

It hasn’t lasted this long or been this intense for some time. In the background, Ella orders a book on how to deal with this flavour of mental gymnastics – she consults my GP – ensures I have the extra meds I need…

And with gentle hands, she loves me through it.

I start to have bubbles of reality…just like surfacing at the swimming pool where the world becomes real again.

I’m cautious. During this lengthy episode I’ve had a couple of false starts back – hope followed by it’s hateful sibling – disappointment- as I plummet again.

It’s hard not to rush headlong into the things I feel I need to do – the push to support people – to raise awareness – to write…blogs…articles…books…to get back to the sacred ramble…to dive into the romp I know the podcast can and will be…

Practical things aside – what about the emotional support I normally provide? Even now I’m feeling the gnaw of guilt at my inability to support the people I love at the times they need it most.

Too much too soon and I’m reminded of my life as a social worker…almost constantly feeling like I’m playing catch up from lengthy periods off work.

But I’m lucky. To say the Grinch stole my Christmas isn’t entirely true. My Christmas was merely postponed – the lovely Ella and I had ours together a couple weeks late.

I’m on my way back now. The bubbles of normality are lasting longer – I’ve been out a couple of times…the agarophoblic explorer has funny – albeit slightly mocking – tone to it.

Anyway – enough of that – I’m safe, I’m well looked after and, in time, all things Walk a Mile will bounce back.

Thanks for being lovely

Walk a Mile

Chris

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12/01/19 Kids today, eh? and other ill thought through theories of mental health problems in our younger folk…

Far be it it for me to assign you homework before we even get started – but please take a look at this article published in yesterday’s Guardian.

‘By mollycoddling our children, we’re fuelling mental illness in teenagers’

It’s so easy for anyone over 30 to rapidly get lost in a world of, ‘In my day…’ and ‘…it never did me any harm…’ but let’s take a breath before we rescue the mental health crisis by blaming parents, or by getting kids to go to the shops and/ or climb a few trees…

We spend all our time telling young people, ‘It’s good to talk…’

Look at the data! It’s great! More people are talking! Isn’t that fabulous…?

…only to tell them that when they do, they, and their parents are spoiled, mollycoddled and lacking in resilience…?

I’m not going to pretend, I think Guardian article is a pile of old bollocks…perhaps brought on by the writers own over privileged childhoods…we can’t blame them…perhaps their parents didn’t expose them to the inequalities in society…?

See what I did there?

It’s good to talk

We’ve accepted – in the U.K. at least – that we’ve been tight lipped for centuries when it comes to talking about emotional and painful stuff.

For example, when I was growing up in the 1970’s experiencing bereavement, neglect and sexual abuse, I told nobody – I was being strong for my Dad (actual quote from folk at my mum’s funeral when I was 12) by keeping my upper lip stiff.

We didn’t talk about that kind of stuff in those days & Lordy, I’m still paying for it today…

These days, we have 2 national campaigns – See Me in Scotland and Time to Talk elsewhere in the U.K. set up to combat the impact of the stigma that many folk with mental health problems experience today in our lovely country.

I don’t know about you, but this article screams ‘Man Up!’ and ‘Snowflake!’ in equal measures.

Nothing says, ‘Shut the fuck up!’ better than a bit of victim blaming.

But hey, that’s just me.

Like anyone my age (53) and others, I find it easy to slip back to the memories of my teens, but instead of remembering that fluctuating developing mind, I superimpose my more adult disposition over the image. It takes a bit more effort to actually engage with those less than certain times…

But I’m not that interested in this wilful rewriting of history, oh no…

My main concern is that the authors seem to have completely ignored what’s going on for our young people today.

Poverty

The most wonderful time of the year that’s also the greatest capitlalist explosion has just been and gone.

Where 1 in 4 children woke up in poverty on that special day believing they’d been bad.

Most of whom have parents who work…

Interesting fact – the U.K. government counts you as employed if you work 2 or more hours a week! That’ll sort those pesky unemployment stats…

And, of course, we have the none-children…you know, when the parents have had the audacity to have more than 2 offspring?

Scrounging bastards! Who do they think they are? As we all know, the first thing that folk think when they lose their jobs is, ‘Let’s breed our way out of poverty!’

Do you or someone you know have more than 2 children? Are you/ they somehow impervious to the slings and arrows of life? Sudden illness? Bereavement? Mental health problems? Or some other something that leads to unemployment?

Which of your children would you choose to be persona non grata?

State sponsored spiral of debt

When a person in the U.K. loses their job, they’re entitled to apply for Universal Credit.

A benefit that the Department of Work and Pensions don’t start paying for a minimum of 5 weeks…up to…well, the worst I’ve heard is a little over a year.

Imagine those snowflake kids whinging on about how their parents can’t afford to heat or eat…sometimes neither…

And yet we’re told by politicians that people are using foodbanks for…er…complex reasons.

Cuts to services

Their parents need to stop mollycoddling…what they need is resilience training…you know, the training provided by all the services available…?

Oh, you mean the services that have been cut and culled over the past 10 years?

We’ve lost huge amounts of children and family services since austerity began to bite in 2010.

A third of Child and adolescent mental health services have been cut…

We’ve lost around 1000 sure start centres that provided support to underprivileged families in England and Wales since 2010

Child Carers

There are 700 Thousand Child Carers in the U.K. – take a moment to digest that – 700 thousand young people who are feeling the impact of the cuts in health and social care services that once supported their parents.

A stolen future – student debt and house buying…

Back in the day…ok, the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, I collected a degree in psychology and a masters in social work…walking away, certificates in hand, pretty much debt free…

Today, if a young person decided to embark on such a gratuitous journey of learning they’d be lucky if they ended up with debt of less than £100 thousand.

When I started social workering in the early 90’s, the average house price was 3 times the average salary and council houses were more common than hen’s teeth and unicorns.

In 2017, council housing numbers decreased to the lowest since records began…

and average house prices have increased to 6 times the average salary…that’s on top of the student debt that many have accrued.

Exam stress

In the past couple of decades, South Korea has gone from a country with low literacy levels to something of an academic powerhouse.

Their young people study, on average, 15 to 16 hours a day, 5-6 days a week…

‘But having world’s best students in maths and literacy has its costs. South Korean teenagers have the highest rates of unhappiness and suicide in the world.’

‘Many can’t cope. South Korea has the highest rates of suicide in the world and it’s growing fastest among 10 to 19 years olds.’

And this is the model of education we’re relentlessly pursuing for our children – some obscure, reflective glory for what – massive student debt, unobtainable house prices, insecure zero hour contracts in the groovily named gig economy, and suicide rates that are rapidly catching up with our East Asian partners.

Homelessness

Today, in the U.K. we have over 300 thousand homeless people – that’s roughly the population of Newcastle – people with families and uncertain futures – imagine some of the stress attached to that.

Professional attitudes

The vast majority of mental, social and health care professionals are fabulous, with great attitudes despite the weird and warped systems they find themselves in…

However…take a look at the Guardian link at the beginning of this all…victim blaming has got itself a toe hold – and unless we consider how we talk to and about actual an potential service users now and in the future, this is a cancer that will grow.

The vast majority of these professionals chose this career path for all the right reasons…they’re people people, compassionate, caring with more soft skills than you could throw a blancmange at.

But what happens when we constantly tell these fine folk how shit their services are…perhaps how shit THEY are…even when they feel they’re doing their best under extreme circumstances.

As a mental health punter, I know some of the desperation when one door closes and another slams in your face – you’ll go to any extreme in the hope that someone will come to your rescue – no matter how short term that help is…

Some professionals, being human, refuse to accept the shortcomings in the system/ themselves and victim blaming follows shortly after…in the world of mental health, there’s the Goldilocks zone of craziness – where potential punters will bend themselves into any number of contortions to be not too mad, but just mad enough to get something…anything…

Labels like ‘attention seeking’ and ‘manipulative’ are weapons brandished in the fog of this particular war.

Professionals, when they have nothing to offer, may signpost folk to charitable organisations with little knowledge of what they do or what their own shortcomings are.

Very often these same charities see it as their role to signpost to health and social care…and there lies infinity, as our young people are bashed from pillar to post in an incomprehensible maelstrom.

Are you feeling mollycoddled yet?

The internet and social media

Older folk who find themselves just outside the blast zone that was the explosion of the information superhighway have a limited understanding of all things interwebbery…lack of knowledge breeds fear, fear begets prejudice which generates a whole bunch of beliefs and attitudes that are, not to mince my words, fear mongering and a pile of old bollocks.

This is the same hysteria that came about, you’ll be glad to hear, when that infestation they call ‘the written word’ became more widespread a bazillion years ago.

I believe that social media is, by and large, a force for good where young folk (ok, and me) can share ideas, beliefs and thoughts with people who can offer them validation.

That said, I appreciate there are swathes of folk, bell ends if you like, who adopt the role of the keyboard warrior, spouting all kinds of hateful vitriol to make themselves feel good…

There is also the norm amongst social media dwellers to display what they consider to be their best, often photoshopped, selves.

But let’s not pretend this is an internet phenomenon. How many of you respond with ‘great, fabulous, wonderful’ when folk ask you how you’re doing when they bump into you in the street? Granted it’s difficult to photoshop yourself in real life, but you get the picture.

There are 3, simple, top tips for life on the internet…

1) If someone is horrible to you, block them;

2) If you feel what they’re doing is contrary to the rules of the bit of the social media you’re hanging out in, report them…

3) Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. A happy picture seldom tells us about any of the pain they might be feeling.

A hateful society

Back in the ‘80’s, Maggie Thatcher, The then Prime Minister, declared there was no such thing as society.

That was as much a pile of old bollocks then as it is now.

Humans, like ants, are social beings. We hang out in families, communities, towns, cities and countries because that’s served us pretty well until now.

In my 53 years rambling about this pale blue dot in space, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the levels of state and media sponsored hate that we see and hear on a daily basis.

The general theme seems to be ‘If you’re not with me, you’re against me,’ and, ‘If you hold just one belief that’s contrary to mine, then may there be a plague on you and everyone you know…’

To that extent, we’ve all fallen into the trap of Bellendship.

These contrived loyalties and enemies – Brexiter/ remainer, leftist/ rightist/ shakeitallaboutist(Sorry, I couldn’t resist that) are significantly less important than than the massive impacts they’ve had in our relationships with each other.

We find it easy to fly into fury and hatred before conversations even get properly started. We name call and jeer from the safety of the groups we’ve allied ourselves with….

So, poverty, relative and absolute, fear and hatred generated by those who claim to lead us, and the loss of hope in ourselves, our fellow citizens and our futures must all be considered before we even dare to think about mollycoddling as the root of all that’s wrong with society.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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24/11/18 Bring me the Head of Brian Cox!

A burning! A Burning! Don’t you just love gathering your pitchforks and torches and laying siege to the castle of the evil…er…floppy haired scientist…?

As I happily strolled around the kingdom of Twitter today I found all kinds of hatred – climaxing in this…

But let’s take a breather…start at the beginning…

Here’s the original interview with the lovely John McDonnell where he lists some of the horrors this Tory government is responsible for – and how he says, although he can work with them whilst keeping a civil tongue in his head, he can never forgive them for what they’ve done to his constituents and the most vulnerable in society.

…and Lordy, it’s hard to argue with him.

Professor Brian Cox came back with this…

As well as the rather robust response above, a number of folk have put their weight behind this blog, in which the writer states (amongst other things)

‘Every Labour member is outraged by his attack on shadow chancellor John McDonnell….’

I’m a labour member, and I’m not outraged…and I certainly don’t think he attacked the shadow chancellor.

One of my concerns here is the Ceiling Effect – what happens when he actually does something really bad, like invading Lichtenstein…?

Will we be even more outrageder? Outragedister?

I believe love, reason and, dare I say it, forgiveness are the weapons that are going to win this war.

You’re not buying it?

Indulge me – stay with me (and a few guests) right to the bottom of the page…

We’re bobbing around in a world of confirmation bias.

We hang out with/ follow and are followed by people we agree with people who share our ideals and values.

So when someone comes along with a statement we disagree with – God do we feel it! No matter how much we try to engage our brains, our first response is visceral.

And why shouldn’t it be?

Take another listen to John McDonnell’s interview – the harm this Tory government has inflicted on our most vulnerable people is horrific.

Since the beginning of austerity, the British Medical Journal tells us that over 120 thousand people have died prematurely because of that policy.

Shelter tell us that there are now more than 320 thousand people homeless, that’s the population of Newcastle, many of whom can hold up Universal (Bastard) Credit as the primary cause of their difficulties…

At the same time we see the wealthiest people receiving massive tax breaks – for example Denise Coates, the founder of Bet365 who awarded herself £265 million last year, would have paid nearly £40 million more in tax had the rates from the 1980s been in place today.

The back stabbing and political chicanery we’ve seen with this government over the past 8 years would have been edited out of Game of Thrones for being too far fetched.

In my opinion, this has been by far the worst U.K. government in my 53 years on the planet.

And I’m furious!

My anger, although incredibly energising, isn’t about to change anything.

I was worried that John McDonnell’s anger at the parliamentary Tory party would be conflated with your average Tory in the street. Looking again at the vitriol fired at Brian Cox, it’s clear that’s a horse that bolted some time ago.

So how will we get folk to vote with us? How do we say, ‘C’mon in, the water’s lovely,’ without them thinking, ‘Fuck off, I know it’s swarming with piranha..’?

We greet folk from ‘the other side’ who say things that might suggest they agree with us with the less than welcoming phrase, ‘Fuck off, hypocrite!’

We fail to consider they’ve been immersed in their own world of crazy Corbyn, skivers and strivers, a world of confirmation bias fed to them by the usual suspects from the right wing press.

I really don’t know why people would vote conservative – but I’m guessing a lot of it’s down to visceral fear and prejudice.

We need to question, listen and raise awareness without calling folk who don’t share our beliefs, a bunch of fucking cockwombles.

And before you start patting yourself on the back for your lack of prejudice…consider what goes on in your mind when you think of a Conservative. How much of that is fact, and how much is prejudice driven fiction?

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, tells us it’s time to move on from the Westminster, combative model of government.

She says it takes strength to be an empathetic leader…

Forgiveness is a continuum. I think it’s a philosophy many of us can try out when we consider all kinds of situations. I’m not saying it’s the solution to all our conflicts, but reading , ‘The Forgiveness Project : Stories for a Vengeful Age’ is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

I don’t agree with Brian Cox’s tweet – Initially I did – then I did some background reading and listening- and now I don’t.

The suggestion that JD is looking for a ‘One Party State’ wasn’t terribly well thought through, and pretty divisive for that matter.

By distancing himself from Tories, John McDonnell is definitely not calling for a single party solution as the professor suggested in his tweet.

That said, I certainly don’t think the professor is the Tory sympathiser or BBC puppet many parts of Twitter tells us he is…

At the same time, although I understand John McDonnell’s statement about not forgiving Tories for the destructive shitstorm they’ve rained down on our people, I don’t think that’s the best way ahead.

Although I don’t think me and Esther McVey will be picking curtains any time soon….

You might agree with me…you might not…but let me leave you with a few quotes from some pretty magnificent folk from our recent history.

Read them, and then tell me I’m wrong…

‘Let no man Pull you low enough to hate him’ Martin Luther King Jnr

‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us’

Jo Cox

‘As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.’

Nelson Mandela

Walk a Mile

Chris

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22/11/18 Blind Prejudice?

The other day I experienced that visceral, gut reaction that only anger driven by prejudice can provide.

Last year, Denise Coates, the founder of Bet365, paid herself £265 million…

I hold my hands up – I felt rage, disgust, weirdly a bit of embarrassment, and that’s before I even started looking at the facts of the story.

We all discriminate – me, you…yes, even you, Dalai Llama…it’s a superpower we all share.

I was angry at her – I still am, if I’m honest…and I’ve never met the woman…although I understand she speaks very highly of me…er…

But let’s get behind my blind prejudice…let’s take a breath for a moment…

If she’d earned this in the ‘80’s, when the top rate of tax was 60%, then she’d have been taxed, give or take, £159,000,000, leaving her with a paltry £106 million to scrape through.

Imagine?!

Because she was taxed today, with the top rate now at 45%, she’d have been taxed £119,250,000

As a result of these political decisions since the 1980’s, she has been awarded £39,750,000 in tax cuts.

That’s nearly £40 million more that could have gone towards schools, hospitals, bloody social workers and the like.

Ah now…but you see, if you tax the wealthy too much, they just can’t help themselves, they have to manufacture new and improved ways of avoiding tax…the system is fair just now, and that’s why people happily pay their taxes.

If we charge too much in tax, we’ll just have to employ more folk at HMRC – imagine the cost?

Er…staffing levels and resources have been cut by 17% since 2010…perhaps we could make a start by replacing them?

If we could scrape back some of that £120 billion, it’s a hit I’m willing to take.

Even the more conservative estimates of HMRC put tax evasion at £4.4 billion and tax avoidance at £2.7 billion with a guesstimate that somehow HMRC fails to collect around £34 billion a year…I’m guessing that the extra £27 billion is slipping through the net because of lack of staff…?

So people are already avoiding/ evading taxes….perhaps if we employ a few more tax dudes…maybe…just maybe…?

But what does this all mean?

In brief, the welfare state has been dessimated, with poor and vulnerable people being vilified for their ‘something for nothing’ attitudes to life…

People who, when they rightfully expect the safety net to be there, find they have to wait for weeks, months, in extreme cases, years for their Universal (Bastard) credit to come through.

This leaves them vulnerable to the vagaries of payday loan sharks – leaving people in spiralling debt from which it’s almost impossible to recover.

But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what the UN’s Rapporteur into Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Aston has to say about the current treatment of our most vulnerable people in the U.K.

I urge you to take a look st his interim report here…

This is a humanitarian crisis of our own making.

Over the past few years we’ve had massive cuts in health and social care,

The independent living fund that supported folk with disabilities to live more independent lives has gone…

Sure start – a scheme supporting families in poverty – has been cut almost into extinction

Remploy – an organisation to support the millions of folk with disabilities who want to work is a mere shadow of it’s former self

Shelter tell us that 300 thousand people are homeless in the U.K. – that’s the population of Newcastle

The use of food banks has grown exponentially – not because of ‘complex reasons’ but because people are in absolute poverty. The support they offer is just a drop in the ocean, when you consider people can only get help from them 3 times a year.

I speak regularly to people who have nothing…they’re not making the decision whether to heat their homes or to eat – they can do neither.

Legal aid for people contesting shonky decisions by the department for work and pensions has all but gone…

But we’ve got near full employment – work is the best way out of poverty…

Sure, we’ve got full employment when the ONS counts people working ONE HOUR A WEEK as employed!

It’s all this that’s behind my anger. Does Denise Coates deserve to be the centre of my vitriol? If I’m honest, probably not…she’s just the product of a system that nurtures this…whatever it is.

I do know that the cost to our most vulnerable people as massive…people who argue otherwise – they’re either ignorant or liars. I’ll let you decide.

It can’t go on.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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19/11/18 International Men’s day – on the subject of toxic masculinity

Your masculinity is toxic…

Go on, try it for size…

Ok, perhaps have a shot at toxic femininity.

What reaction does that instil in you?

The reason I’m raising this is that I’ve seen a whole bunch of punch ups across social media today – on this, international men’s day.

We’ve had men and women reminding us that crying and showing our emotions is a good thing.

We have some men coming back – often aggressively – with claims that they – we – are being emasculated by these claims.

There then follows the usual, tit for tatting, vitriolic, polarising war that (anti) social media knows so very well.

Before I go any further, I think it’s important to declare that my allegiance is very much with the ‘it’s important we talk about stuff’ camp, especially given the fact that men in the U.K. are 3x more likely to take their own lives than women – and that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.

But…have I, we, you perhaps, made it all a bit too simple?

Men don’t talk about emotional stuff – psychological pressure builds…raising the risk of suicidal ideation and acts?

The end…?

But this doesn’t seem to take account of the blue toys vs pink toys, action man, blow the shit out of stuff, boys will be boys indoctrination that I and the vast majority of other men were brought up in.

For fuck’s sake, we still have Royal Navy adverts that declare, ‘I was born in Carlisle but I was made (implication ‘into a man’)in the Royal Navy’

These are core beliefs drilled into us during our formative years.

Before you declare your immunity to this kind of shit, take some time to have a think.

I did, and I’ve got to hold my hands up to feeling a childhood excitement when the ‘The holidays are coming…’ Coca Cola adverts hit our screens, with the hope that, maybe this year I’ll see the big red lorry.

I was brought up in a world where aggression – not just anger – was rewarded with kudos…for this and more complex reasons, I fought my way through my childhood into my early 20’s.

I played a lot of sport to dilute these feelings – but they were still there..

Looking back, I’m more than happy to accept the label of ‘bellend’ er, sorry, toxically masculine – but what does that mean?

It means a handbreak turn in years of socialisation – and, more importantly, it means cognitive dissonance, which, as anyone who’s had even a dalliance with psychology knows, is the road to lunacy.

There are folk out there who’re suggesting that it’s not our inability to talk about emotional stuff, but this cognitive dissonance that leads to more suicidal thoughts and behaviours in your male of the species.

Imagine being brought up being told you had to behave one way, only to be told that was wrong?

Cognitively, I find it very easy to make the case that talking about our feelings is a good thing…emotionally though, I can still fall foul of that (toxic?) masculinity that washes over me when Ella tells me she loves my big shoulders (somehow ignoring my ample belly) and how she feels safe with me…

This is nowhere near as black and white as I’d like it to be…I appreciate there’s much about the masculinity we’ve had drilled into us in the past that’s harmful…and let’s not pretend this brainwashing is a thing of the past – type ‘masculine’ into your google device – then follow that up with ‘antonym’

I did, and I was equally surprised and disappointed to read ‘weak’, ‘timid’, ‘feminine’ and ‘effeminate’ right at the top of that list.

We don’t exist in a vacuum.

I know the, ‘Man up’ rhetoric is harmful to millions of men and women across our fine country, but we need to tread warily when we talk about toxic masculinity.

For many, their masculinity is their identity, and so, if you call their masculinity toxic then…

There’s more to this than a 280 character tweet, or a smart arse blog, can cover…if we truly want to change things we need to ask and listen. Even when we don’t like the answers…we need to listen…

I could take you back to those feelings I experienced when testosterone first coursed through my veins – but that’s enough for now…

Walk a Mile

Chris

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